TAIPEI — A new report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), “Trends in International Arms Transfers, 2012,” indicates that China has displaced the United Kingdom as the world’s fifth-largest exporter of major conventional arms.
The five biggest exporters from 2008 to 2012 were the U.S., Russia, Germany, France and China. This is the first time since the end of the Cold War that a state outside Europe and the U.S. has appeared among the five largest arms exporters.
In contrast, the five biggest importers from 2008 to 2012 were India, China, Pakistan, South Korea and Singapore.
Released March 18, the SIPRI Fact Sheet notes that the volume of Chinese exports of major conventional weapons rose 162 percent between 2003-2007 and 2008-2012, and its share of the volume of international arms exports increased from 2 to 5 percent.
During 2008-2012, Asia and Oceania received 74 percent of China’s arms exports and Africa 13 percent, the report said.
Written by Paul Holtom, Mark Bromley, Pieter Wezeman and Siemon Wezeman, the report notes that China’s surpassing of the U.K. was driven primarily by large-scale arms acquisitions by Pakistan.
“However, a number of recent deals indicate that China is establishing itself as a significant arms supplier to a growing number of important recipient states,” said Holtom, director of the SIPRI Arms Transfer Programme.
Pakistan, which accounted for 55 percent of Chinese arms exports, is likely to remain the largest recipient of Chinese arms in the coming years due to large outstanding and planned orders for combat aircraft, submarines and frigates.
“Recent major deals indicate that China is establishing itself as a substantial arms supplier to a growing number of large arms recipients, including Algeria, Morocco and Venezuela,” the report said.
In 2012, China revealed several new domestically produced weapon systems that show its decreasing dependence on exports. Whereas in 2003-2007 it was by far the largest importer of major arms, in 2008-2012 it fell to second place and its imports fell by 47 percent.
However, said the report, weapons continue to incorporate significant amounts of foreign components. For example, the first Chinese aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, delivered in 2012, was based on a design and hull imported from the Ukraine.
The most important Chinese mass-produced combat aircraft, the Chengdu J-10 and Shenyang J-11, use Russian-supplied AL-31FN engines. China continues to augment its own production of major arms with imports. In 2012, it ordered 55 Mi-17 “Hip” transport helicopters from Russia and negotiated possible deals with Russia for Su-35 multirole fighter aircraft and Amur-class submarines.
China’s military modernization efforts and aggressive behavior in the South China Sea have heightened maritime security acquisitions in Southeast Asia. According to the report, the volume of deliveries to Southeast Asian states in 2008-2012 increased by 169 percent compared with 2003-2007. Strong tensions exist in the region over maritime borders, primarily between China and Vietnam or the Philippines in the South China Sea.
“Weapons with a maritime role, or a dual maritime and over-land role, accounted for most of the imports to the region,” according to the report.
Countries in Southeast Asia have shown a growing interest in submarines, “considered an effective maritime area-denial system.”
In 2012, Singapore received the second of two Swedish Västergötland-class submarines and Indonesia ordered three South Korean Type-209 submarines. Vietnam has six Russian Project-636 submarines on order. Singapore and Malaysia confirmed plans to acquire additional submarines, while Thailand and the Philippines confirmed plans to become submarine operators.